“A cinema? On a boat?” Kids can pick up on the most innocuous details. But I’m grateful, all the same. Trying to get them enthused about being on a ship for several hours requires an incentive. My childhood holidays invariably involved ferries (flying was remarkably expensive in the ’80s), so taking the car across the Channel seems a natural thing to do with kids of a certain age — sharing the adventure with them, rather than sharing a toddler’s tantrums with everyone else.
There’s also a certain luxury in having all your usual items to hand, plus the comfy familiarity of your own car — even if you still get lost in confusing one-way systems and can’t tune the radio.
One of the challenges of family travel is the cost, and part of the desire to take the ferry to France was also to prove that a week away for a family of four in August can be done for under £1,000 — rather than the four-figure prices often quoted.
A short hop from Portsmouth over to Cherbourg (the cinema is on the return leg) means a brief overnight stay in the surprisingly pretty port town (advance rates at the modern, comfortable Hotel Mercure Cherbourg Centre Port are also surprisingly reasonable), and the opportunity to visit Mont Saint-Michel en route the next day. This is one of Europe’s most stunning sights, at the point where Normandy and Brittany merge, the medieval monastery atop a granite island entrances the kids with its fairytale castle quality.
A couple of hours’ drive south and we arrive in Arzon as the sun’s setting. It sits at the tip of the Rhuys Peninsula, in the Gulf of Morbihan. There’s a sense of warmth and calm here — a pace of life that reflects the milder climate and the seasonal visitors looking for a bit of R&R.
Along this Atlantic coast, there are beautiful, sweeping, often-deserted beaches. Coastal walks, bike hire, sailing and other watersports are also draws, and our base in Port du Crouesty is home to a wealth of yachts and motorboats.
Our accommodation at the Pierre & Vacances Port du Crouesty Holiday Village is a little basic but we’re blessed with blue skies and temperatures in the high 20s. The resort is great for kids — we have a playground 30 seconds from our apartment, while the pool and beach are less than five minutes away. And if you know kids under the age of 10, you’ll know all they want to do most of the time on holiday is splash about in the water.
There’s plenty to explore — Château de Suscinio, the ramparts in Vannes, Musée de Préhistoire de Carnac… we even head to Nantes for the day to delight/scare the kids with the city’s famous Grand Eléphant at the spectacular Les Machines de l’île. Be warned, the enormous mechanical wooden pachyderm requires advance booking if you want a ride.
More often than not, though, we go from the pool to the beach to the harbour and back to the pool. The restaurants, patisseries and ice cream parlours a constant draw — mussels and oysters are inescapable while cider, not wine, is the Breton way. We’re not complaining. But after all that, the cinema on the ferry home still holds as much fascination as it had at the start of the journey. It doesn’t take much, sometimes.
Pat, Jo, Mia (seven) and Dexter (three).
How to do it
Brittany Ferries operates routes from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth to five destinations in Normandy and Brittany. Fares start from £79 each way for a car plus two passengers.
Pierre & Vacances has seven nights at the Port du Crouesty Holiday Village in an apartment that sleeps up to four people in April from £378.